The Royal Local Alehouse & Eatery, Wellington

14/02/2014 - 01/03/2014

NZ Fringe Festival 2014

Production Details

‘Traces’ will be an exciting, experiential piece of promenade theatre developed especially for the Fringe. Taking place in several rooms and spaces below ground level in ‘The Royal’, ‘Traces’ will incorporate live music, puppetry, Victorian shadow puppetry, performance, and experiential passageways. The work will be layered, and varied in tone, from hauntingly melancholic, to beautiful, to rousing, to chilling…

Traces. Ghosts From The Archives.

A selection of historic New Zealand ghost stories in the basement at The Royal, one of Wellington’s oldest buildings.

Set in a beautiful old building with a creepy underground basement and an old sub-sea-level pumproom, Traces whispers of ghosts from New Zealand’s past. Tales from the 1800s are invoked in music, told with shadows, and discovered among the rooms and secret stairways. Some stories are hauntingly sad, others may compel you to steel your nerves with a shot from The Royal’s bar… Traces will stay with you for a long time. Cellphones must be turned off and handed in at the door. 

The Royal welcomes Fringe guests to enjoy a special dinner, or perhaps a shot of ‘courage’ before the show. Stay for a hearty drink after in the Basement bar, or upstairs in one of Wellington’s most stunning historical venues.

Traces is an immersive sound-filled world. The project began life as a purely musical project before beginning its afterlife as a theatrical production. Composer, Ryan Smith had been exploring ghost stories from New Zealand’s past as source material for his music, when director, Tabitha Arthur suggested turning it into a show. Excited at the prospect of seeing the ghosts he’d been spending so much time with come to life Ryan happily agreed! 

Original music for Traces is composed by Ryan Smith – a mixture of spooky pre-recorded soundscapes and live music. The live music will be performed by his The Lingering Trio on the kinds of instruments New Zealand colonials hauled over from their old countries and played at nights in their lounges, pubs and halls – Robyn Jaquiery, piano, Heather Elder, violin and Ryan Smith on accordion. Expect eerie 19th century folk-inspired melodies and dark Victorian songs, with vocals by Rose – the murdered dance hall girl. 

Ryan’s past experience as a composer includes soundtracks for films, radio features and art installations. Most recently he created the dark, carnivalesque music and sound for Tabitha Arthur’s The Girl, The Witch and the Seven Ravens; chamber music commissioned by Radio New Zealand for an imaginary world fair – the Expo Belle Epoque; and contributed music to a permanent exhibition dedicated to French nun Suzanne Aubert who immigrated to New Zealand in the 1860s. Ryan also creates music for music libraries and releases music on a Japanese record label.

Tabitha has recently graduated from Toi Whakaari: NZ Drama School with her Master of Theatre Arts in Directing. Her previous shows include sell-out ‘Skellig’ at BATS Theatre, the dark fairy tale using integrated projection, animation, and live action ‘The Girl, The Witch, and The Seven Ravens’, and Fringe festivals, including 2012’s [title of show]. She has worked with composers, musicians, actors, non-actors, experienced models, inexperienced talent, dancers, designers, writers, singers, photographers, filmographers, dreamers, and makers. Influential artists for her are Tim Burton, Maurice Sendak, Robert Lepage, Peter Brook, Man Ray, and Marcel Duchamp. 

Venue:  The Royal Local Alehouse & Eatery
Dates:  February, 14, 15, 19, 20, 21, 22, 26, 27, 28; March, 1

Time:  8:00pm
Duration:  60 mins

Prices:  Full $17 | Concession $13 | Group $13 | Fringe Addict $11 | Artist Card $9

Karen Anslow:  Performer  
Jason Longstaff:  Producer / Longstaff Productions
Rachel Hilliar:  Designer 

Theatre , Site-specific/site-sympathetic , Musical ,


Largely unengaging

Review by Hannah August 15th Feb 2014

The concept behind Traces is a good one: dig up some ghost stories from New Zealand’s past, bring their characters to life in the atmospheric basement of the Royal Alehouse on Lambton Quay, have your audience make its way by torchlight through eerie passages and encounter a succession of pale-faced, bloody figures.

“Just like a haunted house!” my American companion remarks gleefully, anticipating the frights he’s experienced at theme parks in the past.

The concept is less good in actuality, however, and curiously, there’s nothing scary about this show. While director Tabitha Arthur may have deliberately adopted a presentational rather than confrontational style, the result is a theatrical experience that is largely unengaging.

This also owes something to the show’s lack of narrative substance. While the back-stories of eight ghosts are given in the programme, only three of these are developed using dialogue in the hour-long performance.

Promenade theatre isn’t known for its linear narratives, but they shouldn’t be entirely replaced by a reliance on ‘stations’: locations at which actors are to be discovered silently performing the same repetitive action. These can be effective when audience members are permitted to stumble upon them of their own accord, but when led there by another actor and obliged to observe the action for a set amount of time before being moved on, they can create frustration or boredom. 

It’s a shame that the elements of Traces which have evidently involved time and effort to prepare – the projections, the animation, the puppetry – don’t cohere to form a more satisfying theatrical whole.

The definitive highlight is the original music by composer Ryan Smith, which is performed live by Smith and musicians Robyn Jaquiery and Heather Elder. If you don’t fancy the show, you can always buy the forthcoming album.


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